Texas Court Says No Way to Wikipedia Article

Into the "no duh" category of cases falls a recent Texas appeals court decision upholding the conviction of Manuel Flores for cocaine trafficking.  Flores v. State, No. 14-06-00813-CR (Tex. App., Oct. 23, 2008).  Flores contested his conviction on the grounds that he had been subjected to the "John Reid technique" of interrogation, which he claimed could lead to false confessions.  As support, he asked the trial court to take judicial notice of the Wikipedia article on the technique.  The court properly declined to do so.

Apparently borrowing a page from the Cheech and Chong primer on drug trafficking, Flores was busted when he went to pick up a package of 38 baskets made of straw into which 11 kilos of cocaine had been "intricately woven."  (Pop culture mavens will recall the scene in Cheech and Chong's 1978 film "Up in Smoke" where the two successfully drive a van constructed entirely of marijuana across the border).  Interestingly, as of this writing, Wikipedia doesn't contain an entry for the "John Reid technique," but does contain an entertaining entry for "Up in Smoke."

To establish the inherent unreliability of Wikipedia, the court cited a Wall Street Journal article, which said:  "Anyone can edit [a Wikipedia] article, anonymously, hit and run.  From the very beginning that has been Wikipedia's greatest stregth and its greatest weakness."  James Glerick, Wikipedians Leave Cyberspace, Meet in Egypt, Wall St. J., Aug. 8, 2008, at W1.  That unreliability is highlighted by the extensive disclaimers contained on Wikipedia, including this one: "The content of any given article may recently have been changed, vandalized or altered by someone whose opinion does not correspond with the state of knowledge in the relevant fields." 

Thus, it would appear that, at least as far as Texas courts are concerned, Wikipedia is far from being the authoritative source that criminal defendants might think. 

Thanks to BNA Digital Discovery and E-Evidence for flagging this case.

It should also be noted that the Eighth Circuit recently reached the same conclusion in a case with less entertaining facts.  Basada v. Mukasey, No. 07-2276 (8th Cir., Aug. 29, 2008).